It's pretty easy to change a vehicle's style. Do a little cutting and welding here, some parts swapping there, and you're bound to make any car look different. Making tasteful and purposeful changes is a bit more challenging, however; it requires talent and restraint to truly enhance a car's design.

Thoughtful, refined restyling separates exceptional customs from average ones. It can make radically modified vehicles look like cars that could have, or should have, come from the factory-or at least from an OEM designer's sketchpad. It can also make relatively mild customs look as striking, if not more so, than radical versions. If you doubt us, just look at Wes Rydell's incredible '54 Bel Air. Visually, the car is not radically altered-the top is technically unchopped and the body still wears most of its signature '54 styling cues. Yet it has an undeniably strong presence, an allure that might easily outshine a chopped, sectioned, or wildly painted version of the same car. Frankly, we've come to expect no less from the prolific talent behind this custom Chevy's design: Chip Foose. He has a gift for making bold automotive statements without being gaudy or outlandish. Don't let the Bel Air's seemingly simple appearance fool you, though; the modifications are much more intricate than they seem. It's just that Chip has refined the car's design with such subtlety that it's difficult to pinpoint all the changes.

Take the top, for example. It's not chopped, but it has been lowered by removing a small strip of metal above the driprails, thereby decreasing the crown. It's a lot of work for a little payoff-the resulting change in profile measures less than an inch-but it's all Chip and Wes felt the hardtop roofline needed. Similarly, both the hood and trunk lid have been lightly wedge cut to reduce their heft and improve visual flow.

Elsewhere on the body, Chip has blended traditional custom touches with original Chevrolet design elements. Like many customs, the headlights are frenched and hooded with '55 Chevy eyebrows, but they also wear fluted, custom-machined bezels that mimic original '54 headlight rings. The design theme is continued around back, where the frenched taillights use similar bezels to frame stock '54 lenses.

The signature '54 grille gives the Chevy a familiar grin, but is updated with LED parking lights behind smooth plexiglass lenses adorned with '54 Corvette emblems. The upper grille frame is narrowed and smoothed, while the lower grille/splash pan trim is a custom-crafted piece. The modified '56 Chevy bumper looks natural leading the way, partially because its center peak matches that of the grille. Likewise, the rear bumper-made from '55 ends and a '54 center-fits the car's contours perfectly. The '54's front fender character lines have been stretched through the middle of the doors, much like those on a '57 Cadillac, to visually lengthen the car. The enlarged wheel openings, meanwhile, help lighten the body, as well as display the 19x8- and 20x10-inch Pirelli-wrapped Foose wheels, which are modeled after '54 Bel Air hubcaps.

A rich copper finish-custom mixed from Glasurit materials-helps define the Chevy's classic-yet-contemporary demeanor. Charlie Hutton masterfully applied it after performing the final bodywork. The off-white top color is another nod to original Chevy styling, as is the side trim, which was crafted in brass, then chrome plated. It mimics original Bel Air moldings, and frames '57-style rear fender inserts created from silver paint and chrome tape.